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Archive October 2008

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NFL Teams Policing Themselves

By Andy Benoit, NFLTouchdown.com

Have you noticed something about the NFL Conduct Policy this year? Maybe how, it’s working – masterfully, in fact?

Players are not going to stop getting in trouble – human nature won’t allow it. Any collection of 1,600 young adult males is going to have a few bad apples. (Numbers show that the NFL actually has fewer bad apples than American society on average, if we are to believe the arrests numbers.) But what the NFL Conduct Policy has done is empowered, or coerced, teams into reprimanding their own problem children. We have seen an unprecedented amount of team-issued discipline handed down this season.

Individual clubs have taken the initiative to clean up any messes that arise. And it’s not just about players who get in legal trouble; proverbial head cases have felt the iron fist, as well. Take a look at all the team-issued discipline this season. You’ll notice that ALL of the players listed below are guys who have had cloudy reputations in the past.

New York Giants, Plaxico Burress – suspension

The defending World Champions have discovered that their foundation is stronger than their individual parts – including the talented yet roguish 6’5” wide receiver. The Giants suspended Burress for a game earlier this year after he skipped a Monday meeting. They also benched him in the first quarter of last Sunday’s contest at Pittsburgh after he failed to show up for a treatment on his neck.

New York Giants, Jeremy Shockey – traded

The Giants first came to realize that they could survive – nay, thrive – without some of their narcissistic stars when they made their Super Bowl run while the Pro Bowl tight end was out with a broken leg. Shockey’s reclusive behavior during the offseason, and derisive outburst at GM Jerry Reese in training camp, eventually got him traded.

Kansas City Chiefs, Larry Johnson – benched

Four times in five years the star running back has been accused of assault on a woman (usually at a nightclub). Factor in his sporadic whining and moping and it becomes easy to see why the Chiefs have gotten fed up. Herm Edwards has inactivated Johnson for each of the past two games. This ordeal may not be finished; on Tuesday, Johnson went to New York and met with Roger Goodell. To the running back’s credit, he has publicly owned up to his latest mistake and has acknowledged a need for significant changes in his life.

Pittsburgh Steelers, Santonio Holmes – suspended

The Steelers chose to face arguably the best team in football last week without their leading receiver and most dynamic offensive threat. Why? Earlier in the week, Holmes was stopped by police and admitted to having marijuana in his possession. This was the young wideout’s third run-in with the law since being drafted. Holmes has publicly apologized for the incident, though don’t be shocked if he too winds up meeting with Goodell at some point.

Dallas Cowboys, Pacman Jones – disowned

Maybe we shouldn’t give Jerry Jones too much credit here. After all, he’s the one who traded for Pacman while the cornerback was still suspended. But when the troubled star blew his golden opportunity – 10,000th second chance – by getting into a fight with his own team-appointed bodyguard, the NFL suspended him indefinitely. And the Cowboys organization all but said goodbye. Jerry Jones made it public knowledge that Pacman was entering alcohol rehab and emphasized that it was the NFL’s doing. The owner also admitted to never thinking about the possibility of Pacman screwing up with the very guys hired to prevent him from screwing up.

Indianapolis Colts, Ed Johnson – released

Few Indianapolis defensive tackles have been as good as Ed Johnson, the team’s undrafted rookie sensation a year ago. But that wasn’t enough to convince the Colts to keep Johnson after he was arrested for speeding and possession of marijuana. Although his record had been clean as a Colt, Johnson’s previous character issues – which were what had scared teams away on Draft Day – were enough to punch his ticket out of town.

Cleveland Browns, Kellen Winslow – Benched

The hotheaded tight end spouted off about how the organization did not care about him, and how they told him not to publicly disclose his staph infection. The Browns refuted the accusations, then promptly suspended Winslow for a game (after he met with team officials, the suspension was replaced with a $25,000 fine, which meant Winslow got to keep his $235,294-plus game check). Still, he stayed home when the Browns traveled to Jacksonville.

Carolina Panthers, Steve Smith – suspended

You can set your watch by it: every few years, Steve Smith loses his mind and sucker punches a teammate (remember the incident with Stephen Davis?). This time, the victim was cornerback Ken Lucas, who reportedly was sitting in a defenseless position when Smith attacked him. The Panthers drew headlines for suspending the volatile star for the first two games. Carolina won both, Smith and Lucas have since made nice and all appears to be well.

San Francisco 49ers, Vernon Davis – Ejected

Mike Singletary had likely been stewing about the young tight end all season. It wasn’t until Singletary was promoted from defensive coordinator to interim head before he felt comfortable doing something about it. What he did was send Davis to the locker room after the former first-round pick seemingly mailed it in during the second half of a pitiful loss against Seattle. After the game, Singletary lambasted Davis in a press conference that, by now, you’ve seen at least three or four times.

Midseason "Best-Ball" Draft

On Tuesday night, the RotoWire Staff (and a few friends) drafted a midseason "best-ball" league. We picked 20 players, with 1 QB, 2 RB, 3 WR, 2 FLEX (RB/WR), 1 TE and 1 K, no defense, required for starting lineups. There are no add/drops of setting lineups - we strictly use the best combination of players on each roster that fill the starting slots, i.e., whichever players end up doing best on Sunday are retrofitted into your starting lineups.

Scoring is pretty standard (4/6, 20/10), though there's a half point per reception as well. We use team QBs and team kickers.

The league runs from Week 9 to Week 17 and is based solely on total points.

Essentially, it's a good way to gauge how people really value players at the season's midpoint. The results are below.

(Thanks to Scott Pianowski for setting up and commishing the league).

Liss Payne Sandberg Del Don Anestis
1 Westbrook, B Tomlinson, L Portis, C Peterson, A Barber, M
2 Slaton, S Wayne, R Jacobs, B Brown, Ronnie Johnson, Chris
3 Jennings, G Grant, R Boldin, A White, R Moss, R
4 Bush, R Colston, M Ward, H Burress, P Broncos QB
5 Edwards, B Colts QB Eagles QB Gates, A Berrian, B
6 Cotchery, J Harrison, M Avery, D Holmes, S Hightower, T
7 Thomas, P Torain, R Gonzalez, T Texans QB Daniels, O
8 McFadden, D Fargas, J Williams, Roy Royal, E Ocho Cinco, C
9 Mason, D Curtis, K Jones, J Taylor, C James, E
10 Bryant, A Jets QB Jones, M Moore, L McAllister, D
11 Winslow, K Cooley, C Falcons QB Ginn, T Panthers QB
12 Taylor, F Miller, H Smith, S Bears QB Sproles, D
13 Gonzalez, A Browns QB Bruce, I Morris, M Brown, Reg
14 Benson, C Young, S Jones, J Betts, L Hester, D
15 Dolphins QB Jackson, B Bradshaw, A Norwood, J McClain, L
16 Rams QB Green, A Shiancoe, V Niners QB Stallworth, D
17 Seahawks QB Engram, B Titans PK Charles, J Keller, D
18 Lions QB Saints PK Rice, S Smith, L Vikings PK
19 Boss, K Crayton, P Toomer, A Packers PK Walker, J
20 Redskins PK Colts PK Baskett, H Texans PK Booker, M
Stopa Teope Cuozzo Pianowski Burton
1 Lynch, M Gore, F Forte, M Johnson, A Jackson, S
2 Fitzgerald, L Smith, S Marshall, B Turner, M Addai, J
3 Jones-Drew, M Moss, S McGahee, W Williams, DeA Owens, T
4 White, L Saints QB Jones, T Evans, L Johnson, Calvin
5 Graham, E Stewart, J Parker, W Coles, L Lewis, J
6 Chargers QB Packers QB Cardinals QB Bowe, D Houshmandzadeh, T
7 Jackson, V Moore, Mew Welker, W Driver, D Holt, T
8 Walter, K Jackson, Des Chambers, C Ward, D Cowboys QB
9 Galloway, J Faulk, K Washington, L Steelers QB Witten, J
10 Jones, F Rhodes, D Clark, D Williams, Ricky Giants QB
11 Henderson, D Breaston, S Muhammad, M Morris, S Johnson, L
12 Olsen, G Pittman, M Jackson, F Bills QB Smith, K
13 Jags QB Washington, N Scheffler, T Miller, Z Redskins QB
14 Buckhalter, C Fasano, A Rice, R Dunn, W Shockey, J
15 Williams, Reggie Patriots QB Vikings QB Scaife, B Johnson, Rudi
16 Lewis, M Smith, K Lloyd, B Camarillo, G Morgan, J
17 Stokley, B Randle El, A Bucs QB Chiefs QB Carlson, J
18 Chargers PK Lee, D Broncos PK Giants PK Jordan, L
19 Jaguars PK Green-Ellis, B Jones, K Gage, J Cowboys PK
20 Bears PK Patriots PK Bills PK Panthers PK Falcons PK

First Night: Occurrences, Observations and Over-Reactions

Opening night of the NBA is in the books, and we were treated to some of the best the game had to offer Tuesday night. We had the World Champion Celtics squaring off against the Cavaliers, their Eastern Conference foes last year. The Western Conference champion Lakers facing Greg Oden and the up-and-coming Blazers. And the Bulls and Bucks in Chicago. What? Milwaukee/Chicago cluttering up opening night? Someone in the marketing department is getting fired.

The Cavs and Celtics, as it turned out, were the best matchup of the night. Cleveland jumped on them early after Boston's ring-ceremony and banner-raising festivities before the game. It took the Celtics all of the first half to remember that this is no longer the 2007-08 season. It wasn't until the third quarter that we saw Boston's defense take over, limiting the Cavs to 13 points and seizing a lead it nursed through the fourth quarter. Boston coach Doc Rivers, who wants to limit the minutes of his Big Three, was forced to play Ray Allen (40:39), Paul Pierce (38:13) and Kevin Garnett (36:09) much more than he wanted to... The Cavs started a smallish backcourt of Mo Williams and Delonte West, with both of them and LeBron equally initiating the offense. Williams finished with just two assists and may see a reduction in assists moving over to Cleveland. After all, he's primarily a scoring point guard and isn't known for making players around him better. With West and James capable ballhandlers, Williams, who has never averaged more than 6.4 apg in a season, may struggle to get five a night this season... The biggest revelation on the Boston side of things was Leon Powe. The former PAC-10 star was the first big man off the bench for the Celtics. He's a relentless worker who can finish near the basket, scoring 13 points on 5-of-7 shooting in 23 minutes, and gives the Celtics a better offensive big than starter Kendrick Perkins. With the foul-prone Perkins, who averages 23.9 mpg as a starter in his career, ahead of him in the lineup, Powe has the opportunity for a mini-breakout season...

The Lakers jumped on the Blazers early and never let up. The much-anticipated debut of Oden turned out to be less-than what TNT was hoping for. Oden suffered a foot injury early and was seen limping in the first quarter. He was scoreless with five rebounds and a blocked shot in 13 minutes. The Blazers were settling for a lot of jump shots early on and shot just 31 percent in the first half. Rudy Fernandez showed he belonged in the NBA, scoring 16 points on 5-of-10 shooting, including 3-of-5 from international waters. Travis Outlaw, a late-decision starter, had 18 points while filling in for Martell Webster. It's interesting that coach Nate McMillan flirted with starting rookie Nicolas Batum, only to give him 3:32 off the bench. That's the same amount of playing time Ike Diogu got... The Lakers were ruthlessly efficient, knocking down 47 percent from the floor, 70 percent from 3-point range and 83 percent from the free-throw line. It's a good night when stars like Kobe Bryant (32:47) and Pau Gasol (33:02) don't have to work too hard... Because of the blowout nature of the game, it's really hard to read anything into the numbers. Lamar Odom's debut as sixth man produced nine points and seven rebounds in 29 minutes. It looks like his production will suffer in the reserve role, but we're hoping for more than nine points a game...

Ahh, the Bulls and the Bucks. This was a close affair with Chicago pulling away late to win it. The NBA's first-round draft pick, Derrick Rose, was on the display, so at least there was some appeal. He started and had 11 points (3-for-9) with four rebounds, nine assists, three steals and four turnovers. A typical rookie night with flashes of potential along with the mistakes. Ben Gordon, in what should be a motivated final season in Chicago after sometimes-acrimonious offseason negotiations, shook off his preseason toe injury to score 18 points (6-of-12 FG, 3-of-6 3pt). Drew Gooden, who started at center during the preseason, opened the season there and could provide fantasy owners with position flexibility before long. Luol Deng validated his recently signed six-year contract with a team-high 21 points on 8-of-13 shooting. The Bulls should have a winning record if they can play the Bucks all year... For the Bucks, Tuesday's box score should be representative of most of their games this season. Michael Redd and Richard Jefferson took 36 of the team's 78 shots. Jefferson wasn't feeling it (5-for-17), but this team should score a lot and give up a lot. If you're going to lose a lot of games, this is the way to do it. Milwaukee allowed Chicago, a team that made 43 percent of its shots last season, to shoot 50 percent from the floor. And when you look at that starting lineup, it's no surprise. Michael Redd, Luke Ridnour, Richard Jefferson, Charlie Villanueva and Andrew Bogut. Coach Scott Skiles will need to get some defenders (Charlie Bell, Luke Mbah a Moute) on the court. Ridnour (four assists, five turnovers) will have to be better, but he was playing through a back injury. I'm betting Skiles and Charlie V. will not be on speaking terms by Thanksgiving. Villanueva played just 8:47, going 1-of-5 from the floor and having two of his shots blocked. Mbah a Moute (26:24), Malik Allen (20:19) and Dan Gadzuric (14:33) got more run...

We got a full slate of games Wednesday. In the West, there's Phoenix/San Antonio and Utah/Denver headlining. The most interesting match of the night will be in the East, where Toronto and Philadelphia are hooking up.

NFL Notes

The Ravens had high praise for JaMarcus Russell after Sunday’s game, but I’m still not quite sure what to make of him. He gets little help from his receivers, but a 50.3 completion percentage is unacceptable. The jury remains out, and it’s definitely too soon to make a call, but I still say the organization blew it by passing on Calvin Johnson…The next time Darren McFadden takes the field, his toe better be 100 percent healed. Rushing back from this injury has done no good…Seriously, what happened to Mark Clayton? And the same could be said about Todd Heap too.

It’s too bad the Cardinals don’t have a defense, because their offense is good enough to win the Super Bowl. Kurt Warner is playing exceptionally well…When he and Jake Delhomme are both healthy, Steve Smith is basically the best fantasy receiver alive…Muhsin Muhammad’s drop in the end zone qualified as one of the worst so far this season…Step aside Edge, time to see what Timmy Hightower can do.

Chad Pennington looks like Jay Cutler compared to Brad Johnson’s arm strength. This Dallas team is in a lot of trouble if Tony Romo doesn’t come back at 100 percent…No matter how good of a job he does taking care of his body, it looks like Terrell Owens is losing the battle with age…Wade Phillips acted truly dumbfounded when reporters asked about a possible QB switch during his Monday presser, wondering why he would replace Johnson after a win. He just doesn’t get it.

Santana Moss and hamstring injuries don’t go well together. Hopefully it’s not serious, because leg injuries are Moss’ kryptonite…Is there any sane reason whatsoever for Detroit continuing to give Rudi Johnson more carries than Kevin Smith? Nice Gosder Cherilus draft pick, Matt Millen…Clinton Portis is on pace to finish the season with 374 carries, so while I’m not recommending trading him at all costs, be aware there’s a real chance he wears down over the second half of the season.

The Dolphins were nothing short of terrible tackling Sunday, but Joey Porter has been a force this season…Jason Peters has been one of the most disappointing players in football this year…The Ronnie Brown/Ricky Williams split needs to be more 3:1 than 2:1…Miami hit a home run with the Jake Long pick, and there’s a real chance they did the same with Chad Henne. For someone who no longer looked useful as a head coach, Bill Parcells has sure been a valuable asset to the Dolphins…Looks like I was one year too soon jumping on the Lee Evans bandwagon…In case you weren’t invited, Ted Ginn had his coming out party Sunday, absolutely abusing a hobbled Terrence McGee. He’s actually been much more involved in the passing game over the last few weeks, making him an intriguing pick up. Chad Pennington isn’t an ideal fit for his deep speed (half of Pennington’s throws Sunday looked like they were shot mid-air), but Ginn looks like a playmaker. He’ll probably remain inconsistent, but he’s a sneaky play against the Broncos this week.

It looks like BenJarvus Green-Ellis’ relevance will be short-lived, which is a shame. Fantastic name…Torry Holt has fallen off the planet. The warning signs were there, but no one could have predicted this type of decline…Donnie Avery, meanwhile, looks terrific. Remember when everyone went crazy when the Rams took him over Devin Thomas?

I’ll eat some crow regarding LaDainain Tomlinson, as he looked pretty good last week. The Chargers have a very easy schedule moving forward as well…The only thing less surprising than Ted Cottrell ruining a defense would be Tim McCarver stating the obvious. Seriously, why are two of the worst announcers in the business involved in the World Series?...San Diego sure does know how to draft quarterbacks, as Philip Rivers and Drew Brees have been fantastic this season.

Where did that come from Tyler Thigpen? The Jets’ secondary is bad, but that was still highly unexpected…Those Brett Favre interceptions were horrid. Simply brutal. He’s not playing very well right now, and that team is a fraud…It probably wouldn’t be the worst idea to get Leon Washington a few more touches each week…Larry Johnson is awfully tough when it comes to women. Seriously, your next transgression better involve a male, LJ…For some reason, I’m a big fan of the name Connor Barth.

Roddy White is officially a star. He’s been targeted on more of his team’s pass attempts than any player in football this season…Only health prevents Brian Westbrook from being the greatest fantasy asset alive…Michael Turner is the perfect back to have if you’re loaded with RB depth – he destroys bad defenses and is almost worthless against tough ones. He’s a must-start this week in Oakland…Matt Ryan continues to impress…Thanks for costing me a win ATS refs! What a blown call, looking even worse with no challenges available and only 22 seconds away from it being subject to booth review. Ugh.

Maybe now I’ll finally stop getting “should I pick up Matt Schaub” questions. This Texans offense has a lot of upside…Andre Johnson is on pace to finish the season with 128 catches and 1,765 yards. Some more touchdowns would be nice though…The attempted tackle on Kevin Walter’s second TD catch after he was already on the ground was an embarrassment. The Bengals are a joke.

Shaun Rogers was flat-out dominant Sunday, shutting down the Jaguars rushing attack. Put a fork in Fred Taylor, he’s done…Kellen Winslow isn’t a bad buy-low target right now…Nothing like a looming suspension to get motivated, as that was Matt Jones’ best game of his career…Braylon Edwards has been one of, if not the biggest healthy busts so far this season.

I find it hard to believe Pittsburgh wouldn’t be downgrading by switching back to Willie Parker…Playing without Santonio Holmes, or as Dick Stockton calls him, “San Antonio Holmes,” hurt, but a poor offensive line is a recipe for disaster against that Giants pass rush. Imagine if New York hadn’t constantly stalled in the red zone…Still, Pittsburgh remains the third best team in the league.

J.T. O’Sullivan was awful Sunday. Leading the league in sacks, interceptions and fumbles is quite an impressive trifecta…I guess the Mike Singletary/Vernon Davis situation is uncommon, but was it really that big of a deal?...Nice disappearing act, Josh Morgan…It’s not often a team that gets 1.4 YPC, while their opponent gets 5.2, wins 34-13.

LenDale White is on pace to finish the year with 747 rushing yards and 23 touchdowns. As a proud Chris Johnson owner, I loathe the fat man…Sitting at 3-4, don’t be shocked if the Colts finish 10-6 and in the playoffs. Tennessee is legit, but the team really could use even an average option at wide receiver. To win the Super Bowl, would you take the Titans/Giants/Steelers trio, or the field?

NFL Touchdown Sunday Snide Remarks Week 8

By Andy Benoit, www.NFLTouchdown.com New York Giants 21, Pittsburgh Steelers 14

Great win for the Giants – they were clearly the better team on Sunday. The New York secondary absolutely stifled the Steeler receivers (you may have noticed Ben Roethlisberger holding the ball for half an hour every time he dropped back). Also, Pittsburgh’s mediocre offensive line could not handle the Giants’ aggressive front seven.

Steve Spagnuolo might be the best defensive coordinator in the league right now. Few dial up blitzes as effectively as him. Sure, he has some stars to work with, but overall, the Giant D is middle of the road in terms of raw talent. Yet it’s performing at an elite level.

Can’t remember the last time I saw a Giants game that didn’t include the announcers beating an Eli Manning storyline to death. Thank you, Kenny Albert and Troy Aikman.

Speaking of the Fox broadcast, did anyone see Pam Oliver botch her report at the beginning of the second half? It might be worth You Tubing (if you have an extra minute or two).

James Harrison sailed a long snap over Mitch Berger’s head for a late game-tying safety. Here’s what I don’t understand: why doesn’t the backup center, or even starting center, handle the long snap duties in emergency situations?

New York has the best rushing attack in football this season. This alone should be enough to finally send one of these starting offensive linemen to Hawaii (I vote for right guard Chris Snee).

Plaxico Burress didn’t get an opportunity to truly stick it to his former team Sunday because he began the game on the bench as punishment for missing a treatment on a neck injury. Ironically, it’s this kind of behavioral garbage that helped make the Steelers Burress’s former team to begin with.

Dallas Cowboys 13, Tampa Bay Buccaneers 9

This was a very good defensive struggle, highlighted by two ravenous run-stopping front sevens. For the Bucs, the speed of the defensive line gave Dallas trouble. For the Cowboys, linebacker Bradie James and nose tackles Jay Ratliff and Tank Johnson were big difference-makers.

Terrell Owens had only 33 yards receiving, but he stayed positive afterward. A sign that Owens has maybe grown up – a little – is that he seems to realize the offense is going to be treading water as long as Brad Johnson is under center.

Jeff Garcia is playing at a Pro Bowl level. Few quarterbacks elude the rush and keep their eyes downfield as well as he does. And few can move on from their first read, progress through two more, then come back and hit their first read later in the play.

The formula for beating Dallas is blitzing Johnson and jamming the wide receivers. Tampa Bay did that on Sunday, they just didn’t get any big plays offensively or on special teams.

Cowboys rookie corners Mike Jenkins and Orlando Scandrick had excellent games. Obviously, they must continue to play at a high level while Terence Newman, and now possibly Anthony Henry, sit out. But one concern with both rookies is their level of confidence. It’s bordering on “too high.” Jenkins loves to jump routes, and Scandrick is becoming an all-out tackler. If I’m Cowboys secondary coach Dave Campo, I spend Monday taking both rookies through the film, praising them and then scaring them with foreboding tales about giving up big plays.

After this game I heard Wade Phillips and several Cowboy players refer to the team’s upcoming bye week. One problem: Dallas’s bye is in Week 10. I don’t see any way the Cowboys go on the road and beat the Giants next week.

New Orleans Saints 37, San Diego Chargers 32

Are you like me? When watching this game, did you find yourself thinking, “I wonder if these Brits understand what’s going on.” The Brits had a lot of complicated football thrown at them in this one, including an onside kick and Drew Brees taking a bizarre safety in the closing seconds. (By the way, considering New Orleans was well past the 20-yard-line when they did that, and that it trimmed the lead from seven to five while still leaving eight seconds on the clock, you have to say that was one hell of a stupid decision by Sean Payton).

The Chargers lost, but the good news is they can still win the AFC West (thank you, overrated Denver), and LaDainian Tomlinson appears to be himself again.

Of course, San Diego has to stop somebody. And we’re discovering that without Shawne Merriman, that’s not something they can do.

If the Saints can get a few games above .500, you’ll start hearing Drew Brees’s name loudly in MVP discussions. The way he worked the ball around Sunday without the threat of Reggie Bush was extremely impressive.

Overall, I still don’t like sharing our game with the British. I think any European who attends an NFL game should first have to sign a document acknowledging that football is 1,000 times more complex and exciting than soccer.

Cleveland Browns 23, Jacksonville Jaguars 17

Two organizations badly needed this outcome: the Browns, and ESPN. From a television standpoint, thank God this darling team is still in it.

By the way, at 3-4, are the Jaguars still in it? What’s the deal with them?

Derek Anderson appears to be one of those players who performs well only when he has something to prove. Playing for his starting job again this past week, Anderson was mentally sharper, and thus, less predictable.

Cleveland’s best play call this season came in the second quarter on a fourth-and-one. Anderson play-actioned and rolled right before hitting a wide open Steve Heiden for a momentum-boosting 51-yard-gain.

By the way, speaking of Heiden….Kellen Winslow, didya see the veteran tight end’s solid performance? Didya see his blocking? You think maybe you might shape up now that, you know, it’s obvious this team does not need you?

Don’t drink the Matt Jones Kool-Aid. Yes, the guy had his first 100-yard game of what has been a fairly stellar season, but understand the bottom line with Jones: he’s an ultra-athletic former first-round pick who runs horrendous routes, wastes more motion than player in the game and shows less energy than a hungover Eeyore.

Shaun Rogers is playing like a man on fire right now.

Seattle Seahawks 34, San Francisco 49ers 13

Obviously the story of this game is the press conference held by Mike Singletary afterward. You have to admire the interim head coach’s purity. He’s clearly not a guy worried about his own job status. The rules have been laid down; Singletary can’t preach them in this manner too many times again. What he’s saying is right….it’s only a matter of whether the modern football culture – and specifically, the 49er football culture – can handle it.

If Singletary is using this season as an audition, then he should fire Mike Martz right now. Martz’s offense is a quarterback killer and head coach killer.

Case in point: J.T. O’Sullivan. San Francisco was wise to make the move to Shaun Hill. It’s one thing for a quarterback to not be making plays – it’s another to be giving up plays. With 17 turnovers on the year, that’s what O’Sullivan was doing.

Believe it or not, Seattle is just two games out in the NFC West. Their season is far from over.

I was going to make a joke about the 49ers giving up 116 yards receiving and two touchdowns to Seahawks fullback Leonard Weaver, but after seeing Weaver’s highlights, it would be almost unethical for me to not take the opportunity to genuinely praise the man. Not only is Weaver a very good blocker, he’s become a much nimbler runner. He actually shows a burst.

Houston Texans 35, Cincinnati Bengals 6

It might be time to start thinking about the possibility of a winless season in Cincinnati. The mere thought of that is staggering when you consider the number of talented young players on the roster. But Cincy’s already halfway there and heading into the second half of the season with no quarterback, running game or heart.

Any quarterback controversy in Houston is officially off the radar completely. Matt Schaub was 24/28 in this game for 280 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions.

Schaub’s touchdowns were distributed to wideouts Kevin Walter (two) and David Anderson (one). I wonder…is three touchdown passes to white wide receivers a single-game record in the salary cap era?

It’s great to see Dunta Robinson back and playing well after that horrendous leg injury he suffered last season. Robinson could be a real difference-maker in Houston’s secondary down the stretch.

Baltimore Ravens 29, Oakland Raiders 10

JaMarcus Russell faced a very tough defense Sunday, but it’s time to officially be concerned about his completion percentage. Russell was just 15/33 in this game. It was the fourth time this season that he’s thrown more incompletions than completions.

Now the Ravens are using the wildcat offense, only their wrinkle is that they bring in another quarterback, Troy Smith, for it. What’s odd is that they still leave Joe Flacco on the field, which tells you they have some trick play that involves getting the ball to Flacco outside. In the near future, watch for him to throw a deep pass off a long lateral, much like Chad Pennington did a few weeks ago.

How about Flacco’s line in this game: 140 yards passing, with a touchdown; 23 yards rushing, with another touchdown (an impressive one, I might add); 43 yards receiving (in which he out-positioned the defender for the ball).

The other day I was visiting with someone who, everyone would agree, is a football expert. He said to me, completely unprovoked, “You know who is not a very good football player? DeAngelo Hall.”

Carolina Panthers 27, Arizona Cardinals 23

Steve Smith is playing near an MVP level. For years it has seemed like every week he has an enormous catch-and-run for a touchdown. The one he had in this game involved him stepping out of bounds and the ref, for some reason, ruling that he did not step out (something to do with Smith’s heal).

DeAngelo Williams had a nice game: 17 carries, 108 yards. I’ve been saying the past few years that, in terms of simple playing style, Williams is a quicker, faster version of Emmitt Smith. I love his vision and the way he sets up his blocks.

I’m not buying the Arizona Cardinals. This team is too much like all the other Cardinal teams we’ve seen in recent years. Yes, Kurt Warner and his bounty of star receivers put up huge passing numbers, but it’s often to no avail because the Cards don’t have the running game to balance it out. One-dimensional teams become very easy to defeat once the leaves fall off the trees.

Few people are talking about the Panthers secondary, but it’s one of the best in the league. Ken Lucas is having a very good season, Chris Gamble is always steady as a rock, Richard Marshall is a playmaker and Chris Harris is a fumble-forcing machine. More importantly, the Panther defensive backs are good enough for the linebackers and D-linemen to be aggressive up in the box.

Washington Redskins 25, Detroit Lions 17

Jason Campbell is yet to throw an interception this season. That’s incredible considering the guy is still learning the West Coast offense.

I continue to say this one each week: the Redskins are a different offense when Santana Moss is healthy. We saw again Sunday what his big-play ability can do. The mere threat of those big plays will pay huge dividends against Pittsburgh next week.

It should be a crime for a player as gifted as Calvin Johnson to be stuck in the Lions offense. Have we ever seen so much talent go to waste?

Clinton Portis got an earful from Jim Zorn after the running back checked himself into the game without relaying the information to the head coach. That screwed up the play calls. I understand where Zorn is coming from, but how can any coach yell at a tough guy like Portis for subbing himself for a tough gal like Shaun Alexander?

Miami Dolphins 25, Buffalo Bills 16

Just found out Sunday that Ted Ginn Jr. actually is still alive. In fact, he had 175 yards receiving against the Bills!

Not surprised Buffalo lost this one – this had trap game written all over it. Plus, the Dolphins this year seem like one of those teams that is going to win every time you think they’re about to become irrelevant. Teams like that almost always finish 8-8.

Joey Porter was a monster in this game: four tackles, two sacks and a forced fumble. He was misused by Dom Capers last season, and I was one of the many who mistakenly assumed that he was also washed up. Considering Porter’s already tied his career-high with 10.5 sacks, I’d say I was wrong.

The Bills need to get more out of rookie receiver James Hardy. A few times this season Hardy has made a nice play because of his size (which is why Buffalo drafted him), but he has only seven receptions on the year.

New England Patriots 23, St. Louis Rams 16 This marks two very encouraging games in a row now for Matt Cassel. Against the Broncos last Monday Night, the first-time starter tossed three touchdowns. In this game, Cassel led a late fourth quarter scoring drive to claim the victory.

Not ironically, Cassel has gotten Randy Moss and Wes Welker consistently involved in each of the past two weeks.

The next star receiver in the NFL might just be St. Louis’s Donnie Avery. Undersized but overly-quick, the second-round rookie is proving to be a big-play threat opposite Torry Holt. Avery had 163 yards on six catches in this game, which might not say a whole lot considering he faced New England’s porous secondary. But in the previous two games – both Ram victories – he faced very good secondaries in Washington and Dallas and came away with eight critical catches for 128 yards and two scores.

Hate to make a sports bar fan type comment, but this probably would have been a different game had Steven Jackson played.

New York Jets 28, Kansas City Chiefs 24

Brett, if this game weren’t against a JV team, your three interceptions would have produced a loss. And you know it. You lead the league with 11 picks now.

“JV team” is harsh…I don’t mean to trash the Chiefs like that. They gave a great effort on the road. Tyler Thigpen – 25/36, 280 yards, two touchdowns and zero picks – was especially effective (in part because New York had virtually no film on him). Herm Edwards needs to go with Thigpen for the remainder of the season and just see how things shake out.

If Herm signs Daunte Culpepper, that tells you he’s trying to save his job for next season.

You wonder why, facing an atrocious Kansas City run defense, the Jets felt compelled to call 41 pass plays and just 23 runs.

Chiefs rookie cornerback Brandon Flowers has performed well this season. The second-rounder was thrust into the starting lineup in Week 1, then became the No. 1 corner shortly after that. Against the Jets, Flowers recorded his first two career interceptions.

Philadelphia Eagles 27, Atlanta Falcons 14

A healthy Brian Westbrook reminded us all of just how special he is. Westbrook carried the ball 22 times for 167 yards and two scores. He also had 42 yards receiving on six catches. Besides versatility and intelligence, Westbrook is great because he can change his tempo no matter what angle his body is moving. Few players in football have this kind of elusiveness.

The refs blew a call on the Adam Jennings muffed punt (it wasn’t a muff, he never touched it), but that’s a tough call to see. Can’t blame an official there. This is why the NFL added the challenge rule. And this is why Mike Smith will think twice before using up all three of his timeouts before the two minute warning.

Donovan McNabb remains in top form, and now he has his top receiver, Kevin Curtis, back. With L.J. Smith and Westbrook also healthy, and rookie sensation DeSean Jackson ostensibly improving, Philly now has a very dangerous offense.

Lawyer Milloy deserves a hefty fine for his illegal hit on defenseless L.J. Smith. Considering Milloy had a DUI a few weeks ago, the league may want to consider sitting him down a game. This begs the question: does a player’s off-field and on-filed transgressions factor together in the eyes of Roger Goodell?

Twas the night before tip-off

We are now one day away from the opening tip, and I am absolutely pumped. A few last minute thoughts before we get started...

Which perimeter player is king this year? Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, and Chris Paul took 3 of the top-4 votes in the NBA MVP vote and also occupied the top of the roto heap as well. Who takes the top spot this season? I think LeBron is in the pole position for the actual NBA MVP, but I look for Dwyane Wade to sneak back into the mix and perhaps land the top year-end roto ranking of the group if he really can stay healthy. Before his injury two seasons ago Wade was a 30/7/7 player with more than three combined steals/blocks and excellent percentages...that is an absolutely scary roto threat with no glaring weaknesses.

Which young player has the biggest impact? Between the last two NBA drafts, the league has seen an infusion of potential big-name players. Kevin Durant, Greg Oden, Michael Beasley, OJ Mayo, Al Horford, and Derrick Rose could all be in for big seasons this year. I have gone back and forth over who I think will do the best, but right now I think that Oden is well-placed to win Rookie of the Year with Durant as the best bet for roto stardom. If the Blazers make the playoffs with Oden as the main guy, he wins the ROY. And Durant after the All Star break last year was deadly, averaging well over 20 points on excellent shooting with decent boards/steals/blocks. If he builds on that this year, he's a potential top-20 roto player.

Who is the dominant big man this year? While the perimeter guys like LeBron and Kobe get the attention, the vast majority of the time it is the big men that take home the championship (9 of the last 10 champs have prominently featured Duncan, Shaq, or Garnett). So, who is the key big for this year? We are at a transition point between the "old guard" like Duncan, Garnett, O'Neal, Nowitzki and the up-and-comers like Dwight Howard, Al Jefferson, and Amare Stoudemire. In the actual NBA I think that Duncan and Garnett are not quite ready to relinquish their spots at the top of the heap, and that one of them will add another championship ring this year. But fantasy-wise, Stoudemire should reign. After the Shaq trade he averaged pretty close to 30 and 10 on ridiculous shooting percentages, and threw in solid blocked shots to match. If he can replicate that for a season, even with the goofy Kareem goggles, Amare could be the roto MVP.

NYG-PIT: Repeat of Last Season's Playoffs

The Giants won in Pittsburgh in almost exactly the way they knocked off the league's powerhouses on the road in last season's playoffs - with Eli Manning playing a solid, mistake-free game and making all the throws he needed to make, and the defense absolutely dominating in the fourth quarter.

Manning's receivers didn't do him any favors - he threw two perfect balls to Steve Smith (one a 15-yard out) and another a deep ball that was jarred loose when Smith took a hit. Both catches were tough, but certainly makable. Fullback Madison Hedgecock also dropped two - he might be the only player in the league with worse hands than Brandon Jacobs.

But the key was Steve Spagnuolo's blitzing defense and better play by the secondary, the blown coverage on Nate Washington notwithstanding. It's only Week 8, and things will change drastically between now and the end of the season, but this was the type of game the Giants will need to play if they're going to make another run this year.

Wonder what this team would have looked like with a healthy Osi Umenyiora.

Bill Belichick's Latest Middle Finger

There isn’t a more utilitarian gesture than the middle finger. If you’re a curmudgeon, the middle finger is your answer to every question you don’t like. Nobody illustrates this better than Bill Belichick.

For as long as he’s been a head coach in the NFL, Belichick has been raising his middle finger to every outsider who dare tries to gaze into his bubble. Opposing coaches shaking Belichick’s hand after beating him? Up goes the middle finger, as Belichick responds with a handshake icier than Lil Wayne’s wrist.

Opposing coaches trying to run out the clock when Belichick’s beating them? Ding – another raised finger, this one as Belichick protects a 28-point fourth quarter lead with a deep pass out of the shotgun on fourth down inside the red zone.

Or best of all, how about the suits at 280 Park Avenue who tell Belichick that he must wear official Patriots team apparel during games because, you know, it’s important that the league abide by the terms of its 10-year contract with Reebok and everything. Sure, the coach plays by the rules and wears the sweatshirt. But – here comes the middle finger – the rules say nothing about preserving the sleeves. So, he cuts them off. Factor in the mangy hair and the man in the raggedy sweatshirt looks terrible. Some might ask, Bill, why even pick such a petty fight? Bill’s answer? Another middle finger.

Reporters know what it’s like to have their questions answered with Belichick’s middle finger. It happens every time he has a press conference (i.e. all the time).

Sometimes the middle finger doesn’t work. Like when he would give it to management in Cleveland during his 36-44 five-year tenure. Or when he gave it to whoever sent out the memo from the Commissioner’s office last year telling coaches to stop filming opponents’ defensive signals during games.

But those are the only two viable examples of Belichick’s middle finger backfiring. Considering the man has three Super Bowl rings, simple logic says, overall, his middle finger strategy works.

This year, Belichick is giving perhaps his most intriguing middle finger yet.

He’s directing it to all the naysayers who are griping about the complex game plans that New England is heaping on backup-turned-starting quarterback Matt Cassel. The two-tight end and full house formations we thought we’d see from the Patriots after Tom Brady went down simply haven’t been there. Instead, the Pats have continued to spread the field and attack. They’re asking Cassel to work through his progressions and hit one of his four or five targets perfectly on every play – just like Tom did. To do this, a quarterback must have brilliant pocket presence and ingenious diagnostic abilities when surveying a defense. Oh – and a strong arm and pinpoint accuracy are also required. Tom always had all of these things; Matt sometimes has some of these things.

visit www.NFLTouchdown.com to continue reading

NFL Notes

I hate to brag, but then again, my good friend Bobby De Niro once told me never to name drop, so go figure. Anyway, my Week 7 consisted of going 11-3 against the spread and 9-0 in all of my fantasy leagues, making it so epic, I’d be remiss not to mention it. And I hate being remiss. Now, onto the notes:

First TBS misses the beginning of Game 6 of the ALCS, and now CBS misses more than half of the Bills/Chargers game? What decade is this again?...For someone who hadn’t targeted once in the red zone this season, Lee Evans sure did look good on his goal-line score. Might want to continue looking his way there…I’m doing my very best biting my tongue regarding LaDainian Tomlinson, but let’s just say this decline hasn’t quite come as a shock. Folks, the writing was on the wall all along…Down six in the fourth quarter, Norv Turner elected to punt on fourth-and-one from the Buffalo 40. Now that’s exhibiting some confidence in your team!

I’ve grown tired of Jeremy Shockey’s act and inability to stay healthy. He’ll never be on my team again…This Saints team has one of the very best passing attacks in the league, but if you lack any ability to stop the opposing team, especially when outdoors, you simply won’t make the playoffs…I’d give Marques Colston a mulligan. He should be fine…Steve Smith is a bad, bad man…Devery Henderson’s 15.5 YPA is the highest in the league (minimum 30 targets)…NFC South teams are 14-1 at home this season, 3-9 on the road.

I didn’t have any action on it, but I’m guessing the Vikings/Bears game went “over”…Kyle Orton continues to impress. He and Greg Olsen are forming quite a duo. Orton looks like a borderline QB1 and a fine QB2, whereas Olsen has the potential to finish as a top-five fantasy tight end…The weird thing about Minnesota’s disappointing season is that their two main acquisitions, Bernard Berrian and Jared Allen, have actually been really good…Brad Childress is clueless, and he needs to go. Immediately.

Finding MeMo! How good is Mewelde Moore? He’s definitely earned himself a role in Pittsburgh’s offense even when Willie Parker returns. Good thing the team spent a first round pick on a running back when they already had a superior option in a backup role on its roster. All Moore has ever done is produce when given the opportunity…If anyone is still holding out hope for a Carson Palmer return this season, stop. He’s an IR placement waiting to happen…Hines Ward is having a fantastic season, and that block delivered on Keith Rivers was life-changing. Might want to keep your head on a swivel when facing the Steelers.

Think about all the underachieving teams this season: Dallas, New Orleans, Cleveland, Indianapolis, Minnesota, Seattle. The one common denominator? Poor defense. My point? The Titans aren’t undefeated by accident and are a serious contender, despite the lack of passing game…Call me crazy, but Larry Johnson seems like kind of a punk…Anyone who thinks LenDale White had a better game than Chris Johnson wasn’t watching. Johnson is the guy getting the carries when it counts, and if they start utilizing him more in the passing game, he’s a top-10 back. White, meanwhile, could still be looking at 15 touchdowns, although his 80-yard TD run says more about the Chiefs rush defense than it does him…Down 27-0 with less than five minutes left Sunday, Herm Edwards elected to kick a field goal. I got nothing, that act pretty much speaks for itself.

Willis McGahee and the Baltimore offensive line were impressive Sunday, dominating a Dolphins front seven that had been playing well, although the early Jason Ferguson injury forced Miami to change schemes and had a lot to do with it…John Harbaugh has been brilliant and fully deserves to be on the short list for Coach of the Year honors right now…Remember when Todd Heap was relevant? Me neither.

Mike Nolan cared and it wasn’t for a lack of effort. Also, GM Scot McCloughan has been a joke of a talent evaluator (last year’s draft class ranks as one of the worst ever, for any team). Still, Nolan needed to go, and I’ll call it right now; Mike Singletary is going to be one hell of a coach in this league. Hopefully, San Francisco gives him a legit opportunity for it to happen with them…The one rookie who is making an impact, however, is Josh Morgan, who looks like a potential star…With the game an 11-point spread, how sweet was the safety with the Giants up 10 late in the fourth quarter?

Steven Jackson had to be one of the most impressive players Sunday. He can still be a force…Looks like the Donnie Avery over Devin Thomas pick wasn’t so crazy, after all…I wanted to continue going off on Wade Phillips’ aww shucks attitude, but Mike Lombardi had an interesting take on Phillips’ approach so I’ll defer to him: “The Cowboys are not a technique based team. They rely on their talent and their scheme to make plays, so when I read a coach saying he is worried about the execution of the team, it makes me wonder. When you are scheme oriented, you never can get better during the season because each week is a new design and there is never a foundation. The Cowboys need to become better at their fundamentals and their techniques and this can only happen in a reduction of the scheme and trying to make sure there is more attention to detail. And details have never been the trademark of a Wade Phillips defense.”

I liked how “Zack and Miri Make a Porno” lost the second half of its title during the commercials Sunday. Made it sound like some sort of chick flick. Either way, let’s hope Kevin Smith got his mojo back. Speaking of commercials, if I see a “Cash4Gold.com” ad one more time, I’m going to gouge my eyes out.

Andre Johnson is the No. 1 fantasy WR, Owen Daniels is a top-five tight end, and Kevin Walter is a serviceable WR3….Ahman Green may hurt Steve Slaton’s value in the short-term, but he may also prevent him from hitting the rookie wall later on, and it’s not like there’s any chance Green remains healthy when it comes to crunch time…Just forget about Rudi Johnson. He doesn’t belong on any rosters right now…Calvin Johnson’s 154 yards on two catches is probably not a sustainable ratio, but expect more targets in the future. He made his 96-yard TD look positively easy.

So I guess the Colts aren’t quite back on track…Nice to see Ryan Grant break 100 yards, but it’s clear the explosive runner we saw last year just isn’t the same. At least he’s finally moved into positive receiving yards for the season…Charles Woodson has really impressed.

The Raiders don’t have a great interior, but the Jets blocked well Sunday, and Thomas Jones looked rejuvenated, at least for one week…He’s alive! I seriously forgot for a second what “Walker” was on Oakland catching those passes Sunday…Jerricho Cotchery owners don’t get too down, as long as his injury isn’t significant. He was still targeted eight times in the loss and drew Nnamdi Asomugha in coverage for the most part. He’ll bounce back…Right before Jay Feely lined up for a 52-yard field goal attempt to tie the game at the end of regulation, I turned to my friend and said: “Tom Cable will call a timeout at the last second, Feely will miss the field goal and then later make it when it counts.” I wish I could say I’m clairvoyant, but that was very predictable. So what if it worked once or twice last year, it definitely backfires more often. Why give a kicker a practice shot?...No doubt, Darren McFadden has been a disappointment, but the fact remains he’s gotten 5.1 YPC and has plenty of skills as a receiver. If utilized better, there’s still a ton of upside. But don’t expect it this week, as Baltimore hasn’t allowed a 100-yard rusher in 25 games…I watch very little college football, yet before last year’s draft I called Vernon Gholston an obvious bust. How can I know this and not the Jets?

Brady Quinn’s not a bad guy to stash (again) right now, as Derek Anderson’s time as starter is nearing an end. He’s been pretty awful since the first half of last season ended…It’s not like Braylon Edwards has been much of a help. His hands are just brutal…Not much more can be said about Clinton Portis’ 2008 season; he’s been fantastic…Whether or not Kellen Winslow should have talked to the media is debatable, but one thing is for sure - Cleveland has a serious problem with staph infections. How can this “continuously continue” to happen?

I like baseball, don’t get me wrong, but I much prefer to watch football. But even with no fantasy players involved, nor a wager, I watched very little of the Bucs/Seahawks game Sunday night, as I was glued to Game 7 of the ALCS. Of course, it was horrible scheduling by NBC, but still, what an awesome ALCS that was, TBS’ broadcast notwithstanding. Congrats to the Rays, who will absolutely kill Vegas if they win one more series…Speaking of Vegas, Seneca Wallace’s late TD pass was one of the greatest backdoor covers in recent memory. Forget the 3.2 YPA, he came through in the clutch!...Maurice Morris is better than Julius Jones, this much I know.

Pop quiz, hot shot. Which defensive unit was/is better, the 2000/01 Ravens, or the 2008 Broncos?...Even when playing the best game of his life, Matt Cassel takes six sacks…If you’re counting touchdown totals at home, that’s Laurence Maroney 0, BenJarvus Green-Ellis 1…I loved Jay Cutler’s garbage stats more than anyone, but why did Mike Shanahan have his franchise still in the game down 34-0 and later 41-7 late in the fourth quarter while playing with an injured finger? He’s officially made one too many trips to the tanning salon.

Roto Experts draft Tuesday, 8:30 PM EST

For anyone interested, I will be representing Rotowire in an experts draft tonight, 10/14, at 8:30 PM EST. The draft will be held on MockDraft Central, and anyone interested can follow along using this link. http://www.mockdraftcentral.com/2008_fantasy_basketball_rotoexperts_live_mock_draft.jsp

NFL Notes

I haven’t gone back and looked at the details, but I’d venture to guess Matt Ryan’s first six games of his NFL career are as impressive as any rookie QB ever. And to think about the Michael Vick and Bobby Petrino disasters. Is there a better young trio in the league than Ryan, Roddy White and Michael Turner?...It’s possible Devin Hester may turn into a viable wide receiver after all. There certainly is the opportunity…Lately an easy schedule has helped, but I’m very surprised with how competent Kyle Orton has been. I got this one wrong…It’s been beaten to death by now, but the decision to squib kick while up one point with six seconds left was indefensible. I’ve heard some argue it was the right call, just that the execution was the problem. I don’t buy it. I’ve seen that scenario lead to great field possession, one play and then a field goal 10 times as often as I’ve seen a team return a normal kickoff for a touchdown at the buzzer.

One of the most unpredictable stats of the 2008 season: Chad Pennington getting 8.0 YPA. And with that receiving corps. Over the last three games, he’s completed 78 percent of his passes...As a proud Ronnie Brown owner, I was none too pleased seeing Ricky Williams get essentially an even split of the carries Sunday. Luckily, Brown countered that with a productive day in the passing game, something the team needs to better utilize moving forward…Texans corner Fred Bennett led the NFL in YPA against last season. This year, he’s basically been benched. DBs remain one of the most fluctuating positions on the field. Unless you’re Nnamdi Asomugha, of course…It would be really tough to choose who’s the No. 1 fantasy WR right now, Andre Johnson or Brandon Marshall…Still not sure why everyone doesn’t consider Matt Schaub a clear QB1 moving forward.

It shouldn’t be underestimated just how well that Ravens secondary was playing before Peyton Manning shredded it to pieces Sunday. And as I see it, the news he had a second knee surgery is actually good, giving him a valid excuse for the slow start. It looks like a monster second half is in store…Joe Flacco, meanwhile, appears to be undergoing some growing pains. Shake it off kid, not everyone can be Matty Ryan…Well, I guess I prematurely wrote off Marvin Harrison. I’d still try to sell coming off that game…There’s still hope with that cushy playoff schedule, but after this year, I’m done with Joseph Addai as an early first round pick. Health is a skill he clearly doesn’t possess.

This Vikings team is a fraud. The defense has shown signs of improvement, but with a below average passing game and a clueless head coach, they’ll be watching the playoffs from home…I’m not going to kill him for it, but Dan Orlovsky’s safety was easily one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen on a football field. The fact Detroit lost by two points makes it that much better…Bernard Berrian has become a legit fantasy option…The trade of Roy Williams should boost Calvin Johnson’s value, as I’m always on the more targets outweighs more coverage side of the ledger, at least for the most part…It’s hard to have a more disappointing 111-yard rushing day than Adrian Peterson’s Week 6. It’s true the holes simply haven’t been there, but come on, at home against Detroit and just 4.4 YPC? His fumbling has become a real problem as well.

See, it was definitely Lane Kiffin’s fault. I loved hearing how he called JaMarcus Russell last week to go over the Saints game. That was cool…Is it possible to play any better than Drew Brees did Sunday? It’s doubtful…If that’s Deuce McAllister’s upside in perfect conditions, he can’t be used in fantasy leagues…New Orleans’ front seven has played fantastic run defense of late…Never in the history of football has there ever been someone so valuable with a 3.1 YPC mark than Reggie Bush in 2008. The No. 1 ranked running back in most fantasy leagues, Bush hasn’t had more than 31 rushing yards in any game since Week 3.

There were two plausible scenarios for Chris Perry this season: he’d miraculously stay healthy and be extremely productive, or more likely, he’d get hurt. Naturally, he’s stayed healthy and been about as unproductive as possible. The Bengals’ current best runner is Ryan Fitzpatrick…Who’s worse? Fitzpatrick or Tyler Thigpen? Quick, someone page Shane Falco.

I wouldn’t have drafted Warrick Dunn on a bet this year. How does a 33-year-old RB with more than 2,500 career carries average 5.1 YPC after getting just 3.2 last season? Unreal…Sticking with Tampa Bay, nice to see my boy B.J. Upton clobber five bombs in seven postseason games after hitting nine all season long. Where was that all year? He’s going to be a monster next season. But not quite as big as Evan Longoria, who looks like a clear top-15 fantasy pick in 2009.

After winning four straight games, including back-to-back victories in Dallas and in Philadelphia, the Redskins then lose at home to the winless Rams? Yes, this game of football can be hard to predict. That said, this truly was a fluke, as fumbles (NFL’s true equalizer) were mostly to blame. St. Louis’ offense remains a joke…There’s been a Shaun Alexander sighting! Don’t be the sucker rushing to go pick him up in your fantasy league…Richie wasn’t very “Incognito” during his egregious penalty that nearly ruined the upset of the year. Sorry, I couldn’t resist.

Despite missing Week 1, Brandon Marshall has 10 more targets (69) than any other receiver in the league. And they called me crazy when I made a bet this summer that Marshall would have the better fantasy season than Randy Moss…He’s been long gone in all my leagues, but it’s worth reiterating – go pick up Ryan Torain if available…I can’t wait to see what Maurice Jones-Drew will eventually do once he has that backfield all to himself…This Denver defense isn’t just bad, it’s atrocious.

Steve Breaston can clearly play, and Larry Fitzgerald may very well be the best receiver on the planet. Imagine trying to defend this passing attack once Anquan Boldin returns. Of course, even if there’s only three men in the box, Edgerrin James will muster 3.5 YPC…Ten games of Roy Williams for a first, third and sixth round pick? Really? He’s had exactly one season during his career where he’s met or exceeded expectations. I didn’t realize the passing game was an area of need. I’m sure Terrell Owens will enjoy fewer targets, and receiver is an easy position to transition from one team to another. Only not. Still, I can’t complain about some rare trade action in the NFL…Wade Phillips’ sideline antics have officially become full-on embarrassing. Dallas has plenty of talent, especially at the high-profile skill positions, but this team is soft and undisciplined. They need a coaching change fast…The word is often misused, but the fact Pacman Jones has been suspended indefinitely due to a fight with a security guard who was hired purely to help keep him in the league is, in fact, ironic. I’m not sure who’s crazier, Pacman, or George Brett (NSFW).

When the 9ers go down, they go down in style. Like being outscored 23-0 in the fourth quarter Sunday. I’m beginning to think J.T. O’Sullivan has ball security issues…There’s been a Vernon Davis sighting! It’d probably result in a 50 percent catch rate (or worse), but it would be interesting to at least see a bunch of targets thrown his way…Andy Reid must have one of the worst short-term memories around. I really think he’d trot David Akers out there again when Philly is in 45-plus FG range. Or keep pounding up the middle during short-yardage situations when his line is ill suited for that. L.J. Smith simply can’t block…Speaking of Philadelphia, if Joe Torre was willing to bring in Jonathan Broxton in a tie game in the eighth inning, why not do so with a two-run lead? Just a brutal loss by the Dodgers. But pretty cool redemption by Shane Victorino, who I thought handled the whole bench clearing situation well.

Was it just me, or did Charlie Frye not look very good Sunday? Mike Holmgren came back for one more year of this?...I keep preaching patience with Ryan Grant, but that was certainly yet another highly disappointing effort…If Maurice Morris is available in your league, I’d stash him…Greg Jennings has gotten an eye-popping 12.6 YPA this season. Lee Evans has gotten 14.4 YPA, but that’s in nearly half the targets.

Have you read all those quotes from Laurence Maroney? Something is clearly going on there. Of course, Bill Belichick treats football like the JFK documents, so it’s unlikely we’ll ever find out the real “issues”…As a Vincent Jackson owner in numerous leagues, Chris Chambers’ ankle injury can’t heal slow enough…Call me crazy, but it looks like the Patriots are going to miss Tom Brady after all…Coaching is important in football – I’d say more so than any other sport by far – but you won’t see a bigger mismatch than Belichick versus Norv Turner, and San Diego once held a 30-3 lead before winning by 20. I’m just saying…Speaking of Turner, will you please get Darren Sproles more involved.

And to think, people were keeping a straight face while calling Eli the better Manning last week. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not going to overreact to one bad game and still expect a fine season from Eli, but let’s not get crazy here. He clearly has the far superior team surrounding him than Peyton…Welcome to 2008, Braylon Edwards…Do you realize Derrick Ward is averaging 7.4 YPC this season?! In fact, the Giants as a team are getting 6.1 YPC, which would be the highest average in NFL history over a single season.

The Next Big Things

We’re at an exciting time in the NBA for many reasons, not the least of which is that we appear poised to usher in a crop of young centers with more collective potential than any group since Hakeem Olajuwon, Patrick Ewing and David Robinson in the mid-to-late 80s. Dwight Howard, Andrew Bynum, and Greg Oden all have a chance to slide into those big shoes as the next Big thing. But which of them do you want on your fantasy team THIS year, and how much should you be willing to give up to get them?

Howard is most established of the trio, and the one most likely to put up huge numbers on any given night or for the season. He’s also the one most likely to put a cape on in public and call himself Superman, but that isn’t a fantasy category. Howard used his unworldly athleticism to average an absurd 14.2 rebounds per game last season as a 22 year old…more than Kevin Garnett, Shaquille O’Neal, or Tim Duncan have ever managed for a season. He also scored more than 20 points, blocked more than two shots, and shot 60% from the field. And Howard is also ridiculously durable, having never missed an NBA game in his career. Since he should still be getting better, he should be a top-5 pick in fantasy leagues, right? Not so fast, though. Howard also shot a paltry 59% from the line on a whopping 11 free throw attempts per game, which can absolutely kill your team’s free throw percentage in a Shaq-like way. Thus, while the upside is beautiful, Superman’s Kryptonite should be enough to give roto owners pause before calling his name in the first round. I’m not saying don’t take him at the end of the first, I’m just saying to think long and hard before you do.

Bynum is arguably the most talked about young player in the NBA right now, because many see the 7-foot 20-year old as the missing piece to ushering in a new Lakers dynasty. While these Lakers obviously belong to Kobe Bryant and also sport talented players like Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom, Bynum tantalized the Lakers’ faithful as well as fantasy owners with a strong first two months of the season before his year got cut short by a knee injury. Specifically, over his last 14 full games before the injury Bynum averaged about 17 points, 11 boards, almost 2.5 blocks, and shot a ridiculous 70% from the field. Also, Bynum is at least a non-toxic free throw shooter that hit almost 70% of his free throws last season. But Bynum is a bigger fantasy risk than Howard because of the uncertainty of his recovery from knee surgery, and also the uncertainty of his role now that Gasol has joined him and Odom in the frontcourt. Plus, Bynum has never shown that he can put up those big numbers over the long haul. So while Bynum has NBA elite potential, you should be able to get him in the early-middle rounds, after the less-risky elites have already come off the board.

And then, there is Oden. Oden has been generating mega NBA hype since he was in middle school, well before people were talking about Bynum or even Howard. He was the most sought after big man to enter the NBA draft since Tim Duncan more than a decade ago, and people expect him to quickly lead the Trailblazers into championship contention. But Oden has still never played a minute in the NBA, and his rookie season has been delayed by a year due to the dreaded microfracture knee surgery. Despite that, Oden has ridiculous upside. He has all of Bynum’s height, most of Howard’s explosive leaping ability, is bigger than either one of them, and has defensive instincts that just can’t be taught. If he is healthy, it would not be at all surprising for Oden to average 15 and 10 with around three blocks per game as a rookie. And Oden looks healthy thus far in the preseason.

Overall, I expect Howard to put up the best numbers of the crew. But if I could get elite non-centers with my first two picks, I would be happy to get Bynum or Oden several rounds later who have similar upside at a higher risk, and at the least should give elite defensive big-man stats at the hard-to-fill center position. And setting fantasy aside, I can not WAIT to see how these three young giants make their mark on the league over the next several seasons.

NFL Touchdown Sunday Snide Remarks Week 6

San Diego Chargers 30, New England Patriots 10
Did the Patriots really call timeout with :02 left in this game? Pathetic. Looks like Belichick runs up the scoring even when he’s losing. Or would that actually be called running down the score?

San Diego’s defense was spectacular Sunday night, particularly Jamal Williams up front and Quintin Jammer on the edge. Jammer defended Randy Moss better than anyone since Moss went to New England.

Matt Cassel was awful in this game. If you’re a Pats fan, you’re just hoping it isn’t because all of his weaknesses and tendencies are starting to show up on film. Cassel needs to accelerate his decision-making in the pocket. He also needs to trust his receivers more (i.e. Randy Moss) and be willing to stretch a defense.

This just in: Deltha O’Neal has given up another deep ball.

LaDainian Tomlinson (toe) is clearly not himself right now. Why even play him late in this game?

Here’s why the Chargers will win the AFC West: Philip Rivers is having a career year, Vincent Jackson continues to blossom, and that offensive line, with Marcus McNeil and Nick Hardwick both healthy, is back to being the best in the AFC.

Arizona Cardinals 30, Dallas Cowboys 24
Although this was the first game in NFL history to end on a blocked punt for a touchdown (that’s a neat and surprising piece of trivia, by the way), the Cardinals won this match straight up. They dominated up front and made fewer mistakes than Wade Phillips’ men.

This was the first truly bad game that Flozell Adams has had in quite awhile. Adams could not handle the speed of Bertrand Berry or Travis LaBoy.

Marc Colombo wasn’t much better for the Cowboys over on the right side. He had his lunch eaten all afternoon by Chike Okeafor. Both Cowboys tackles struggled in run-blocking, which may be part of the reason Dallas used so many delay handoffs.

It’s easy to say that Terrell Owens needs to get the ball more, but Tony Romo didn’t have time to hit Owens. The shoddy pass protection forced Romo to check down and throw short, usually to Marion Barber (11 receptions). Barber was at least able to manufacture 128 yards on these receptions, but this isn’t Cowboys football.

Someone tell Leonard Davis that a lineman spiking the ball is only cool if the running back hands it to him. It’s not cool if the lineman picks the ball up off the ground himself. In fact, as Davis learned, it’s a 15-yard penalty.

Watching Edgerrin James at this point in his career is like watching Emmitt Smith in the final years of his career. You know you’re seeing an intelligent, dedicated, Hall of Fame runner, but it gets harder each week convincing yourself that these traits make up for the dire lack of burst.

Kurt Warner is playing at an extremely high level. Not many quarterbacks hang in the pocket as well as he does.

Jacksonville Jaguars 24, Denver Broncos 17
Get used to the losing, Denver fans. In 2001 your team started 3-1 and finished 8-8. The next year they started 4-2 and finished 9-7. In ’03 the Broncos started 5-1 and finished 10-6. They did the same thing again in ’04. And in ’06, Mike Shanahan’s crew began the season 5-1, only to finish 9-7.

In fairness to Denver, they were without Eddie Royal and Tony Scheffler in this one. But the absence of those guys doesn’t explain Jay Cutler’s downfield interception or Brandon Marshall’s fumble.

The Jaguars makeshift offensive line appears to be gelling. Watch, now, as this offense starts to take off. You saw a strong hint of it today with Maurice Jones-Drew going for over 100 yards again.

All seven of Matt Jones’s receptions on Sunday seemed to come at just the right time. I joked about this not long ago, but now I’m being serious: I think his cocaine arrest helped him. The severity of the issue made the former first-round pick realize that he actually could be expendable.

Marcedes Lewis had only three catches Sunday, but all three seemed to expose gaping holes in the middle of Denver’s pass defense. Mark this down as the week that the Broncos’ most fatal flaw was exposed.

Green Bay Packers 27, Seattle Seahawks 17
It’s not surprising that Seattle’s offense struggled in this game; Charlie Frye was under center. Mike Holmgren has zero confidence in Frye.

Just in case it isn’t clear to everyone, Aaron Rodgers is playing excellent football. Coming into this game with a passer rating of 95.5, Rodgers completed 21 of 30 passes for 208 yards and two touchdowns.

It speaks well for the young QB that Greg Jennings has continued his impressive ascension, which began last season playing with Brett Favre.

Holmgren called out his defense this past week, particularly middle linebacker Lofa Tatupu. He basically said what everyone can see: more big plays have to be made.

Charles Woodson continues to pad his stats. He picked off his fourth pass of the season Sunday and also recorded his first sack.

For the rest of Andy Benoit's Snide Remarks from Sunday Week 6, visit NFLTouchdown.com.

NFL Notes

The Titans’ win was impressive nevertheless, but not without the aid of some questionable officiating. The late roughing the passer call, which came on a false start penalty no less, was an absolute joke…In a game featuring the two best defenses in the league and with low YPA and YPC marks, it was interesting that zero sacks were recorded…Remember when Ray Rice was turning heads in the preseason? Wha happened?

Hope you sold Larry Johnson after his back-to-back big games, because that was ugly Sunday. If he’s that matchup dependent, then he’s simply not all that valuable, especially since it appears Damon Huard’s days as starter are coming to an end…Where did that come from, DeAngelo Williams? I’d still prefer Jonathan Stewart from here on out…There isn’t a more physical receiver in the league than Steve Smith.

I don’t care if they were the apparent savvy pick as home dogs, shame on me for taking the Lions ATS this week. One thing has become clear; of all the supposed bad teams in the NFL, Detroit and St. Louis are in a class of their own at the very bottom. There’s a legitimate chance the Lions finish 0-16…I still don’t view Kyle Orton as worth a roster spot in fantasy leagues, but he’s been an obvious upgrade over Rex Grossman…If offered a first round pick, of course Detroit should trade Roy Williams. Doubtful that offer comes rolling in, though.

Gutsy performance by Aaron Rodgers. The Packers were upset because of their defense, certainly not the offense…Ryan Grant wasn’t bad Sunday, but still, you can’t help but be left wanting more, especially considering the matchup. Meanwhile, nice to see Michael Turner perform well outside of Atlanta…I would call Greg Jennings a future star if not for the fact he already is one…John Abraham is a one man wrecking crew right now…Fears of Roddy White being unproductive because of a rookie signal caller can easily be put to bed now. White is the real deal.

Joseph Addai has been rather pedestrian, but it’s comforting seeing few other carries given to Dominic Rhodes. The touchdowns will come…So this is why I avoided Marvin Harrison like the plague at draft tables this year. The guy is toast. 9.6 yards-per-catch? Ouch. If Anthony Gonzalez is forced to miss much time, bump Dallas Clark way up. At least until his next injury…Want an IDP sleeper? Look no further than Freddy Keiaho…No one should have been panicking over Andre Johnson’s slow start in the first place, but it’s safe to go back to treating him as a top-5 WR from here on out…Never in my life have I seen a worse stretch of football than Sage Rosenfels during the last 3:36 of Sunday’s game. Up 10 with the ball and less than 4 minutes left, he decides to do a superman impression? I could go over the next two horrendous turnovers, but let’s just say Matt Schaub’s starting job is safe. Not that it ever should have been in question to begin with.

It’s time to reconsider our preconceptions about the Dolphins, as this current team should not be taken lightly. The defense is playing very, very well…It’s not all the “wildcat,” as Ronnie Brown looks extremely good running the football (although he never switches hands). It’s like the knee injury never happened. Ricky Williams, meanwhile, looks like nothing more than a complementary piece. Since the Dolphins get the 49ers at home Week 15 and then face the Chiefs in Kansas City Week 16, Brown has to be viewed as a top-10 fantasy back, at minimum, right now…If Chris Chambers’ injury proves serious, bump Vincent Jackson up, especially since Antonio Gates is hobbled as well…I’m really trying not to beat a dead horse, and Miami’s run D has been sneaky good all year long, but LaDainian Tomlinson is a shell of his former self.

The most impressive aspect of the Giants might be their depth. Lose Michael Strahan and Osi Umenyiora? No problem. Justin Tuck, Mathias Kiwanuka and Fred Robbins are Pro Bowl caliber replacements. Suspend Plaxico Burress? No sweat, Domenik Hixon can step in and go off for 100 yards in one half. There certainly wouldn’t be a drop off if the team lost its top-two running backs either. Now, if David Carr is ever pressed into action, that’s a whole different story…It’s safe to say Seattle does not enjoy playing on the east coast…I’m beginning to think Deion Branch is prone to injury.

Dale Sveum deserves to be fired immediately for his inexplicable decision to start Jeff Suppan in Game 4. At first I understood and could even applaud not wanting to start Yovani Gallardo on three days’ rest since he had pitched just twice since May 1 and the future was more important than one game, but the fact he was brought in as a reliever destroys that theory completely. Why in the hell wasn’t he starting in the first place? Gallardo may not have been dominant during his Game 1 start, but the defense was the real culprit, as all three runs were unearned. Moreover, he fanned seven over four innings during his final regular season start. He also dealt during his three inning relief appearance after replacing Suppan, who sported a positively Cy Young like 4.57 K/9 IP mark, 1.54 WHIP and 1.3:1 K:BB ratio this season.

Through five weeks, Jim Zorn is the coach of the year, hands down. After beating the Eagles in Philly on Sunday, without Shawn Springs and Jason Taylor to boot, the Redskins are 4-1 and are finished with all of their road games in the tough NFC East. They ran for 146 yards against the team that entered as the best run D in the NFL. Through 20 quarters, Washington has still yet to commit a turnover!...I’ve come to the conclusion Andy Reid is a fraud. I don’t care how great of a system Philly runs, it has to be more about his assistants and coordinators because no one so dumb as a tactician can be the brains behind the operation. Still, Zorn is the one who deserves a ton of credit, from the innovative Antwaan Randle-El touchdown pass (in which Reid wasted a timeout by calling for a replay when Randle-El was clearly behind the line of scrimmage) to the decision to kick an extra point twice in the second half when the idiotic “chart” called to go for two.

It’s Matt Prater’s world, the rest of us are just paying rent. Not only will Prater boot a 70-yard field goal some day, he’s a huge asset in the field position battle with all those touchbacks…I would continue to chastise Jon Gruden for playing Warrick Dunn so much, but the guy has really been playing well, so it’s tough to fault him…The Bucs have a collection of solid backup quarterbacks, but they are a starter away from being a real good team.

Lee Evans is averaging a respectable 27.0 yards-per-catch this season, so it’s probably not a great idea to let him get behind the secondary…I know everyone generally considers Marshawn Lynch to be a special running back, but the fact of the matter is, his 3.6 YPC mark this season is unacceptable. And it’s just 3.9 for his career. And that’s with a strong passing game at his benefit. Since he gets so many touches and Buffalo has a soft fantasy playoff schedule (MIA, @NYJ, @DEN), he’s still a plenty valuable fantasy back. But Fred Jackson is the more explosive player…Jason Peters has been nothing short of awful since returning from his holdout…Tim Hightower is on pace to finish the season with 353 rushing yards and 16 touchdowns.

For someone whom I once considered a top-5 player in the league, Carson Palmer is awfully inaccurate. He missed Chris Perry twice Sunday on short routes that would have resulted in Perry walking into the end zone…Speaking of Perry, what a disappointment. When Cedric Benson is outplaying you, it might be time to hang up the cleats…To me, Jason Witten is one of the 25 most valuable properties in fantasy football…Patrick Crayton and Pacman Jones have stone-hands. Just brutal…There isn’t a bigger fan of Marion Barber than myself, but I must concede, Felix Jones can play and needs to see double-digit touches on a weekly basis.

I actually recommend dropping Laurence Maroney at this point. At least that way you’ll never have the temptation to start him again. There were moments during his rookie season I was convinced he was a future star, and that seemed only more likely as New England became such a force. Forget about it. He’s a bum…And so is Vernon Davis…Patrick Willis, on the other hand, most definitely is not.

Mike Tomlin is a breath of fresh air. He’s captivating during his press conferences, and he’s usually pretty straightforward when it comes to injuries. Listen, I can understand the benefits from not being forthcoming with every detail, and I take football far more seriously than anyone should, but this isn’t national security. Some coaches really could do well by not taking themselves so seriously…Is there a worse unit in the league than Jacksonville’s ground game? Now that’s a problem.

The Cubs didn’t lose because of a curse or because of choking, and forget the fact that postseason baseball is a complete crapshoot anyway with the disproportionately shrinking sample size; they lost because the Dodgers were the better team. Carlos Zambrano’s 6.20 K/9 IP mark this season ranked outside the top-50 among starting pitchers who qualified. He had absolutely no business whatsoever starting over Ted Lilly. Also, Rich Harden’s velocity has been way down for the past few weeks, so he was clearly hurting. Meanwhile, the Derek Lowe/Chad Billingsley tandem is underrated, and with that bullpen, I wouldn’t be surprised if Los Angeles won it all.

As much as I love Gina Carano, and believe me I do, Elite XC took a crushing blow when Kimbo Slice did his best Glass Joe impression Saturday night. I don’t care if he found out who his new opponent was five seconds before the fight, that was embarrassing.

The Real Season is Coming

As much as I love football, for me the real season will always be the NBA. And since NBA camps opened this week, it is time to start getting ready for the upcoming fantasy basketball season.

I believe that in order to be good at fantasy basketball, you have to understand real basketball. You need to know who's going to be good and why, who's going to be bad and why, and how there can be fantasy gold found among both good and bad teams. You need to keep up with the storylines, and think about how they are likely to affect player output. So today, I'm just going to throw out a few of the bigger storylines to get us back to thinking about the NBA again as we start prepping for the tip-off at the end of the month.

*The Celtics are the champs. Besides the fact that I'm overjoyed that Kevin Garnett finally has a ring, this is also a huge fantasy plot. Because Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Ray Allen are all north of 30 it is likely that the Celtics limit their minutes this season in preparation for another long playoffs run. The offense should be more efficient this year since everyone knows their roles, but look for Pierce and Allen to play closer to the 32 mpg that Garnett played last season than the 37 mpg that they played, which would limit their fantasy output. On the other hand, look for youngsters like Rajon Rondo to play a bigger role with more minutes on a daily basis, which makes him a good candidate to see a big boost in this, his magical third season.

*The Lakers add Andrew Bynum to what was already a championship caliber team. While this makes the Lakers a favorite to get back to the Finals this year, it could have a poor effect on several fantasy mainstays. Bynum's points and rebounds likely eat into Pau Gasol's totals, and Lamar Odom's numbers (especially boards) likely fall even further as he is either pushed out of position to small forward or out of the starting line-up completely. Even Kobe Bryant could see his scoring decrease, as Bynum, Gasol, and Odom all will need to get their shots as well.

*The Seven Seconds or Less era is over in Phoenix, with Shaquille O'Neal and Terry Porter replacing Shawn Marion and Mike D'Antoni to start this season. This year's Suns look to be more about half-court offense and defense than run-and-gun, which bodes ill for the number production of Steve Nash. Shaq and Grant Hill are both past their primes and are expected to concentrate more on defense than offense, which limits their output as well. And then, there is Amare Stoudemire. Stoudemire projects as the number one fantasy prospect overall, because he should be the primary scorer (30 ppg potential) that also shoots near 60% from the field and 85% from the line. Add in decent rebounding and blocked shot numbers, and Stoudemire looks to be fantasy gold this year.

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